Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Michelangelo Antonioni, 1912-2007


Wow, I hope Godard and Resnais are taking it easy today. Unfortunately, I've seen even fewer Antonioni films than I have Bergman films (3 - L'Avventura, Blow-Up, and The Passenger, plus his section from Eros). Antonioni's style and subject matter is even more forbiddingly high modernist, and more of its time, when the old orders of Europe finally crumbled under the weight of the modern age. To be perfectly honest, I can't say that I 'get' L'Avventura or Blow-Up, although that might just be because Antonioni's style and message have so permeated the art-movie that they just seem like part of the landscape now. The Passenger, on the other hand, I love because it feels simultaneously more personal and more playful than the previous two, less mired in what Pauline Kael called 'come-dressed-as-the-sick-soul-of-Europe parties'. But I need to revisit as many of these movies as I can. All this viewing makes me wish I was out of work right now so that I could have more free time.

8 comments:

cjKennedy said...

I won't pretend I've mastered Antonioni either, but I'm no longer intimidated by him.

Two of the filmmakers I've struggled the most to 'understand' are Antonioni and Godard (ok I struggle with Resnais too, but I'll leave him out of this for now). I suppose there's no point in comparing the two directly, but I think I'm more comfortable with Antonioni even though I can't explain why.

At the risk of sounding goofy, I think it's because I feel an Antonioni movie. I can't describe it, but I can feel it. With Godard it always feels like he's playing a practical joke on me. I can admire his cleverness but it's hard for me to get attached to it.

I still haven't seen The Passenger. A shocking omission I know and one I hope to correct very soon.

Jeff McMahon said...

Godard's films are more intellectual and postmodern, and as a result he feels more contemporary to me, while Antonioni feels like he belongs to a different era, the same era that brought us Schoenberg and Rothko and T.S. Eliot, all of whom seemed to want to make art that was vast and imposing, while I tend to prefer artists like Godard (or Joyce, or Prokofiev) who try to be more playful.

Anyway, The Passenger is very enjoyable, still a tough nut to crack, but fascinating to watch.

cjKennedy said...

You've summed up the contrast between the two pretty well.

I'd never get into a fight about who is better or more important, it's just a personal preference.

I think as I've gotten older intellectualism doesn't move me as much and I find myself responding more to emotionalism. I found some of that in Godard's My Life to Live and I think it's one of my favorites of his.

Jeff McMahon said...

Yeah, I don't think intellectualism per se is enough to make me respond to a film - I can't really get into Atom Egoyan or Peter Greenaway, for example - but when intellectualism is shackled to emotional content, it's the best, as in My Life to Live, or (for me) Contempt or Weekend or (to a lesser degree) Notre Musique. And that's the same reason I can't get into most Antonioni - I'm not sure what emotions I'm meant to feel when I watch L'Avventura.

cjKennedy said...

Is the lack of emotion sort of an emotion all to itself?

I'm back to being unable to explain my attraction to Antonioni without sounding pretentious and/or silly.

It's a tired argument to talk about the nothingness and the ennui, but it's what I keep coming back to and for some reason I really respond to it.

Jeff McMahon said...

Well, I can see, in an intellectual way, that the characters in an Antonioni movie are 'sad' and unfulfilled and so on; but I only actually _feel_ that in The Passenger.

frankbooth said...

I first saw The Passenger years ago. It was a cruddy-looking video dub, and I found it interminable.

I saw again recently, projected on a big screen, and was completely
mesmerized.

As for Godard, I made the mistake of starting with his later work. I saw Hail Mary amid all the nonsense surrounding its release, and was put off for years. (I was also possibly influenced too much by John Simon's negative opinion of him, which I stumbled across at an impressionable age. You wanna talk real-life Anton Ego...)

frankbooth said...

Oops, here's the other half:

I've since been able to enjoy some of his work (like Contempt and
Breathless and particularly the surreal Alphaville), but it's still hard to shake the feeling his films are a private conversation between him and the critical establishment. He may be the first director in history to not require a general audience.